Manchester’s dance innovators Crazy P, have been shaking dancefloors all across the globe for two decades, so it’s some surprise to find out that Crazy P’s Jim Baron has released an album of delicate acoustic guitar tunes, ‘Love Makes Magic’, recalling Crosby, Still, Nash and Young, and fusing a hazy summer folk sound with subtle beats. We caught up with Jim to find out how Laurel Canyon’s folk scene inspired this new album, and how his dance roots are never far away either….

The whole album has such great harmonies, it could have been written in Laurel Canyon in the 60’s, was that sound and scene one of the main inspirations behind the new album?

“At the conception of the project most definitely. I’ve always loved the effect harmony singing can have, it’s a powerful dynamic, particularly when the musical elements are stripped back. the voice is a versatile instrument. It can provide a sense of melancholy, a feeling of euphoria and where the harmonies are less straightforward an edge of foreboding. I’d never really experimented with harmony singing before I came to the project but I’ve found it an immensely enjoyable and gratifying part of the process.”

‘A Life In Between’ has the chorus line ‘wasn’t always right, but I really tried’ is it about trying to admit to your limitations but enjoying life regardless.

“It’s not really as broad as that and if you listen to the other lyrics you might get the sense that I’m talking to someone directly, letting them know how I feel. How I was misjudged. It’s also about isolation and what it can do to someone’s state of mind. The listener can of course take what they want from it. Such is the beauty of music!”

‘Where The Leaves Are Falling’ has a brilliant Nick Drake style finger picking acoustic guitar, I read that a fellow musician (Ben Smith) taught you how to play and then you practiced all the time, until you were really good. How does your songwriting approach differ when writing more guitar based songs as opposed to your Crazy P songs?

“I already played a bit of guitar but I was very much an electric, play with a plectrum and keep it simple type. After I worked on the White Elephant project with Ben and Chris Todd (Crazy P) I really wanted to try and emulate what they were doing. I’d always loved the idea but it was something I’d never got my head round. Following those sessions I bought an acoustic and effectively taught myself through regular practise. Hence my style isn’t what you’d call textbook but I like that fact. I tend to do my own thing in my own way but I think that’s what puts personality into the music.”

‘Oxygen’ and ‘Still River Flow’ have more of a soulful groove to them, like Chic meets CSNY, also with the brightest summery melodies I’ve heard in a long time, we’re you keen to keep some more danceable beats in there too. 

“I was. when I was writing the album, whilst I was really enjoying the emotive stripped back stuff, I was conscious about the album being too one dimensional. I also started thinking about taking it out live and the idea of an hour of ‘woe is me’ singer-songwriter stuff didn’t appeal. I wanted to incorporate some positivity and even humour. I guess that’s my more dance based roots poking through. I wanted the album to have some variation but still have continuity and feel like it was a part of the same body of work.”

This city has always seemed to play an important role in your creativity, you had The Apollo on the cover of your Crazy P album ‘The Wicked is Music’. Relocating to Manchester who were your inspirations either musically or non musically from here?

“The first label we signed to as Crazy P was Paper Recordings. They were a huge inspiration. obviously Factory, The Durutti Column are a big influence on this particular record. When I was growing up The Mondays, The Roses, there was so much going on at that time and much like Detroit and dance music, it had a feel that was somewhat unique to the locality. A personality all of its own.”

Some musicians dabble in other sounds, often the complete opposite of what they settle on as their preferred one. Would you like to combine the dance stuff and guitar stuff even more in the future or keep them as two separate musical ventures?

“They are definitely two separate entities and palates. melody, harmony, vibe and instrumentation wise they are miles apart. I think in this particular case mixing the genres I work in would end up sounding weird, like a depressed Cotton Eyed Joe. And who wants that in their ears? Not me.”

When did you realise you wanted to be a musician full time and if you weren’t doing music full time what job would you probably be doing?

“I gave up my job in 2001. I was a criminal solicitor for 4 years prior to that. It was a thoroughly anti-social and ungratifying job. we had an offer for Crazy P to do a summer season in Ibiza, getting flown out there every two weeks to perform with the band. By April of that year I’d already used up my holiday on other gigs so something had to give. I’d also just finished paying off my various student debts so it just felt like the right time to take the plunge and concentrate on the music.

When you’re writing, do you just record on to your phone or do you go old school and use a 4 track, and then how does it develop?

“My phone is full of little ideas. lyrical notes, little selfie vids of me playing ideas I don’t want to forget, concepts, everything really. I stick them all in a folder on my computer and then start working them up bit by bit. For demos I will generally keep it really simple, one mic to record guitar and vocal and into the computer. I used to have a 4 track in my formative years and I used to love it. I have no recollection of what happened to it but it went missing somewhere down the line. I keep my eyes open on e-bay as I’d love to get involved again but you can tell from the rise in price I’m not the only one to be attempting to resurrect the old format.”

You’re constantly busy with Crazy P and DJ events, any plans to tour as Jim and if so, do you envisage a full band or solo acoustic?

“Yes, we’ve started rehearsing the band up now which has been a buzz. They’re a terrific bunch so I really count myself lucky. They’ve pushed me on and given me the confidence to do it live. we’ve got some festival appearances booked in for July and September with hopefully a more concrete tour in October. As you rightly mention though it feels like with everything on I’m spinning plates, but I’m relishing the challenge.”

What’s the best and worst elements of touring?

“It may not surprise you but the gigs are the best part. The camaraderie of the tour bus is often where memories are made and laughter is heard. The worst bits? Lack of sleep (in my increasing years) and not having any green M&M’s in the dressing room on arrival.”

You’re signed to the new label, Vicious Charm, formed by Damian Harris of Skint Records/Midfield General fame. Why did you decide to sign to his label?

“I’d worked with Damian on a couple of projects for Skint and I just got a sense during that that he’s one of the good guys. When I was trying to get a deal on the record, I sent it to him because I thought he may be able to put it in front of people who may be interested, as it was so musically different to anything I’d done before, and he’s obviously been in the biz for years and has connections transcending dance music. At that point he was conceiving the Vicious Charm label and was keen to move into new musical directions. It was a lovely moment of synergy. He loved the record, the whole thing felt right.”

What’s next for you, more songwriting as Jim or with Crazy P, any other future projects in the pipeline?

“Finishing the new Crazy P album at the moment. Beyond that more JIM for sure, more Ron Basejam, the work continues!”

Jim: Love Makes Magic – Out Now (Vicious Charm Records)

Jim – Still River Flow

From the early days of creating handmade zines, in a DIY paper and glue style, interviewing bands around town, then pestering Piccadilly Records to sell them, to writing for various independent mags such as Chimp and Ablaze, writing about the music I love is still a great passion. After testing the music industry waters in London with stints at various labels, being back in my hometown again, writing about this city’s vibrant music scene is as exciting as ever. All time favourite bands include Sonic Youth, Nick Cave, Patti Smith although anything from electro to folk via blues and pysch rock will also do nicely too. A great album, is simply a great album, regardless of whatever musical cage you put it in.